Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Not Just A Bright Dot In The Sky

This evening, the international space station will be orbiting over Southern California: (from SpotTheStation)

"Time: Wed Feb 27 6:22 PM, Visible: 6 min, Max Height: 72 degrees, Appears: NW, Disappears: SE"

Frankly, I look forward to each time the station will be passing over-head and the night sky is cloudless.  While some people may think "what's the big deal, it's just a bright spot in the sky?" I see it as much more fascinating, impressive, and noteworthy.  Why?

Well, wether it is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court predicting an eclipse, or Ash Williams in The Army Of Darkness's "boom stick", chain saw and Oldsmobile, or NASA predicting the near-Earth fly-by of an asteroid... these are applications of science and technology that show that some humans actually use their neurons and firing synapses for useful purposes - to gain favor with the king and the fair maiden (Bing), to preserve one's life (Ash), or to avert a possible planetary threat (NASA).  Each time scientists and engineers get it right, it is a victory for the thinking class, the anti-Kardashians, the geeks who otherwise go un-appreciated and often-mocked / ridiculed / pigeon-holed / devalued & who are frequently ostracized, and a rebuke to those who do not value (or "believe") science.

To say confidently "at this time, and this place, you're going to see this man made object that is 230 miles above you, hurtling at roughly 17,250 mph, along a trajectory path from HERE to THERE that will last 6 minutes" ... and that object has scientists in it, who are doing experiments that may change the way materials are manufactured on Earth, how diseases are fought, or alter what we know about the condition of this tiny blue sphere on which we all live... well, that is pretty damn amazing to me.

Yes, it LOOKS like just a little bright white dot in the sky, not much brighter than Venus or Jupiter, moving in a straight line, but it is something that humans - collaborating, working together - created, tested, launched, maintain, and inhabit.  It's not some natural occurring phenomenon over which humans have no control.  Looking up and seeing it is one of the purest manifestations of the evidence that "science matters".  If we all believed that the Earth was 6000 years old, and the Ptolemaic Earth was at the center of the universe, and that eating of a creature that was not of cloven hoof & chewing cud was an abomination, there Would Be No international space station.  We'd be bleeding patients to get their humours corrected and relying upon astrology and alchemists as we tried to kill off or subjugate the rival neighbor tribes for the differences in their beliefs and appearance.

Each time I see this manifestation of successful technology, doing something very impressive, and very useful for all of humanity, it gives me hope.  It helps to remind me that life is not a series of pathetic of reality TV shows, bad news, innocuous fluff producing teen bands, marketing of products we don't need to buy, and mystical beliefs of invisible beings in the sky who randomly wreak random havoc on their terrestrial follows.  No, there's an actual space station, made of steel, titanium, plastic, and aluminum, full of scientists, engineers, and pilots from many different countries, safely flying more than 24X faster than  I've ever flown (an Air France 777 flight I was on once clocked in at 705 mph at 40K feet) at an altitude 32X higher than I've ever been, AND there are humans so smart that they can predict where it's going to be, automatically email me the information to let me know where that will be, so that I can also gaze upon the beauty of that manifestation and appreciate it.

It's something I'll never be able to explain to a tea bagger who wants to cut ALL government spending - without government expenditures, the international space station never would have been built.  It's not something that a quick creationist will ever understand, as they cannot separate the miracles that they believe their deity created from the modern marvels that science and engineering can create.  It's not something that I could explain to an uneducated manual laborer who has worked their butt off since the age of 6 and never even graduated from 8th grade (as my departed grand parents were) because they were too busy trying to stay alive and keep their family fed...  but it IS a thing of beauty that I appreciate.

I'll get off my soap box now.


  1. The ISS Just Now set in the SE sky behind my neighbor's roof line. It was beautiful. Triangular (not round) and brighter than any star or planet in the sky, it moved across the night sky faster than any commercial or military plane is capable of flying. To say I was delighted to see the entire trajectory, is an understatement. =)

  2. I can't wait to get a nice pair of 10X binoculars to see it better... I am looking at these: ...with some Amazon certificates I have coming int he mail, from an appreciation award from my employer. =)

  3. Because you write things like this and take the time to appreciate and point out the fantastic achievements of science is why I love you. Too bad our nation has essentially abandoned its space program......


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